Monday, March 26, 2018

The Orchard in 1910

The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee gives us a fascinating look at Athletic Park and its neighborhood as seen in 1910.

This map shows a section in the city bordered by Burleigh on the north, &th Street on the east, 10th Street on the west, and extending one-half block south of Chambers. Which, of course, includes Borchert Field, then known as Athletic Park and identified here as "American Association Milwaukee Club Base Ball Park".

This is part of the University's Digital Collections. This one comes from a series of municipal maps:
The Digital Sanborn Maps of Milwaukee 1894 & 1910 are two fire insurance atlases featuring detailed color maps of Milwaukee. Produced by the Sanborn Map Company, the 1894 atlas includes four volumes, consisting of 450 map sheets and the 1910 atlas includes eight volumes, consisting of 830 map sheets. Sanborn maps were designed to assist fire insurance agents with insuring property. Produced for over 12,000 urbanized areas in the United States, Sanborn maps have been described by the Library of Congress as "the single most important record of urban growth and development in the United States during the past one hundred years." Some features found on Sanborn fire insurance maps include: construction material of dwellings, commercial buildings, and factories, fire walls, windows, doors, style and composition of roofs, wall thickness, cracks in exterior walls, elevator locations, building uses, sidewalk and street widths, layout and ownership names, property boundaries, distance between buildings, house and block numbers, location of water mains, hydrants, piping, wells, cisterns, and fuel storage tanks.
Outstanding. And catnip to a history lover like myself. You can go block by block and see the structures that were once in place, often in exacting detail.

Let's take a closer look at the ballpark itself:

At this point, the grandstand is showing the horseshoe form it would eventually take:

The first base stands, however, weren't yet connected to the main building, and were uncovered. Bleachers with no roof.

I wonder when they were connected?

In 1944, a large section of the first base grandstand roof was torn apart by storm winds. I wonder if not being part of the orginal structure contributed to that collapse? Was it not built to the same standards as the rest of the park?

Moving on to the outfield, we see another set of bleachers, along with two permanent buildings. On the left, a "Ticket Window and Waiting Room", and on the right, "Lockers".

Would be interesting to see if those facilities were retained in the ballpark's later life. Take a look at this arial photograph from the 1930s, after the grandstand was built out but before permanent light standards were added in 1935:

You can see the layout is essentially the same as our 1910 map; small bleacher section roughly in the middle, buildings bordered in outfield fence along each side.

All in all, a wonderful peek into the Orchard's past. We are indebted to the Sanborn Map Company for chronicling this chapter in Milwaukee history, and UWM for preserving it for our use today.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Vintage Brew: “Playing it Forward… James Buster Clarkson”

James "Buster" Clarkson was known mostly as a Negro League ball player, he played with his fellow soldiers during World War 2 and his minor league career included the 1950-1952 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He had a short cup of Joe in the majors with the Boston Braves, but the well-traveled Clarkson was much more to those who really knew him and caught the "Bus."

"Playing it Forward…James Buster Clarkson"
by Paul Tenpenny
Copyright 2018 Tencentzports
Printed with permission of the Author

In the summer of 2016 I was invited to attend a ballgame at Miller Park by my good friend and author Bob Buege. Seated with us was the family of the newly inducted member of the Milwaukee Braves Wall of Fame, Bill Bruton. I had met the late Bruton at a signing years ago and had the privilege to talk at length with him during a break. He was a great player and a very friendly man. To get a chance to sit with his daughter and grandsons was an honor. It allowed me the time to get to know them and also afforded me an opportunity to return a "lost" passport to his family that I had acquired. It was an emotional experience for myself and the family. I was able to share with them a photo of him as a Milwaukee Brewer that they apparently had never seen.

Bill Bruton as a Milwaukee Brewer in 1952 (Author's Collection)

Our conversation led to his early experiences in baseball and the overwhelming impact that another player had on his career and life. That player was James Clarkson. "Bus, Buzz" or "Buster" Clarkson was a veteran Negro League star and a Milwaukee Brewer from 1950-1952. He was a solid hitter for the Brews during that time hitting over .300 in the three years with the team. Here are a couple of comments from teammates I had contact with for a previous article.

Teammate Charlie Gorin:
"I remember Clarkson on fielding a ground ball would make the throw and holler 'Do something with it George.' Bus was older, and his arm was a little weak, but Crowe (1st) would dig it out of the dirt. Bus made up for his arm with a strong bat."
Teammate Bert Thiel:
"Nobody knew his age but he could swing the bat with power."
Buster Clarkson as a Milwaukee Brewer in 1951 (Author's Collection)

His stats can be found on Baseball and some very good research has been done and is available online, particularly "A Long Ride to the Majors: The Story of James 'Bus' Clarkson" by Nick Diunte. This is a must read and gives us a window to the times as to how many great players were overlooked. For most, it was too late for them by the time Jackie Robinson broke down the barrier. He was undeniably a great ballplayer, but we will never get a chance to really know how great. Like longtime Brewer trainer Harry "Doc" Buckner, we can only think of the "What If"s.

By the time he arrived in Milwaukee, James Clarkson was older than most of his teammates and he became a coach and a mentor to players like Bill Bruton who were new to the game.

John Stahl in his SABR bio on Bruton tells us:
On May 31 the Braves fired manager Tommy Holmes and hired Grimm. He quickly made several roster moves, including optioning outfielder Jim "Buster" Clarkson to the Brewers. Bruton became friends with Clarkson, a veteran Braves minor-league player who had also played in the Negro Leagues. A college graduate in physical education, Clarkson began schooling Bruton on how to improve his game.

Bruton quickly turned his disastrous season around. He ended up playing in all 154 games and hit .325 for the season. His 211 hits led the American Association. In the last six weeks of the season, he stole 20 bases.

Bruton gave all the credit to Clarkson. "All I know about baseball, I owe to Bus Clarkson," he said. "He taught me a lot." After the season, Clarkson invited Bruton to play winter ball for a team he managed in the Puerto Rico League. Again, Clarkson provided Bruton with more baseball insight. This time they focused on his bunting."
Clarkson also helped players navigate life as a person of color during the 1950's as he was a "veteran" of these times too.

Milwaukee Brewers Buster Clarkson, Bill Bruton and Luis Marquez outside of Borchert Field in 1952 (Author's Collection)

Clarkson never lost sight of the future, he reached out to those younger than himself, seen here, sharing baseball with the eager children of Milwaukee. Just look at the face of the little boy being held by two of the local heroes. I wonder if Matthew Huff of Milwaukee saved this baseball? I'd love to hear from you. You'd be 71 years young today.

From May 30, 1951:
"Autograph seekers had a field day at Lapham Park playground the other day when George Crowe and Jim Clarkson of the Brewers visited the field…"
George Crowe and James Clarkson visit Milwaukee's Lapham Park playground in 1951 (Author's Collection)

James Clarkson went on to live a quiet life after his career in baseball ended in 1956.

This signature as a 1952 Brewer from a young fan's autograph book is one of my most treasured possessions.

He played his heart out, lived life well and unselfishly gave back to those younger than him in so many ways.

He paid it and played it forward.

Thanks, Bus.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Modest Proposal for 2019, Part III: Capping It Off

We've looked at my modest proposal for a "Turn Back the Clock" event honoring the 1944 Milwaukee Chicks on their anniversary. we've discussed the potential uniforms. now let's top it off, if you will, with a look at their caps.

Let's start with the pictures we've seen of Sylvia Wronski and Vivian Anderson:

These are the best views I've seen so far. Dark crown, lighter brim and button. Sans-serif M in a light circle with two borders. That motif seems to have been a common one in the early AAGPBL, as seen in this display from the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

Photo credit: Flickr user NJ Baseball

That's the Fort Wayne Daisies in gold and Peoria Redwings in red, both with the initial/circle/borders pattern.

Back to the Chicks, the general consensus is that their cap's crown was black, the brim and button red. I don't know how that was decided, what references were used. The circle appears to be a lighter color than the brim, but that could possibly be chalked up to either photographic exposure or different materials.

K & P Weaver's interpretation of this cap encloses the M in a red circle.

That doesn't look quite right to me. The erstwhile Cooperstown Baseball Cap Company made a reproduction with a circle of athletic gold.

I believe that's the cap Vivian (Anderson) Sheriffs was wearing when she was photographed at an AAGPBL event shortly before her death in 2012. Looking at a picture of her in uniform, you can see how inaccurate the CBCC cap really is.

The colors look like they could be correct; the gold would visually set itself apart from the red brim. But the M is all wrong, too thick and narrow. The circle is missing its two outlines, one dark and the next light.

Here's my best interpretation of the authentic cap logo:

So, if we are successful, and the Brewers do agree to hold a Turn Back the Clock event at Miller Park next year, we might see them take the field wearing something like this:

Monday, March 12, 2018

A Modest Proposal for 2019, Part II: What Would They Wear?

In a recent post, I suggested that the Brewers should hold a "Turn Back the Clock" event next year honoring the Milwaukee Chicks, who won the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League championship in 1944, their only year of existence.

I further suggested that our Brew Crew could naturally wear the men's version of the uniform, as seen on manager Max Carey at the right edge of that photo. But what exactly did those uniforms look like?

I don't yet have good photos of the uniforms, much less color photos, but we can start by reviewing what we know about the AAGPBL and its æsthetics.

The AAGPBL's uniforms were designed by Otis Shepard. Shepard had worked for Philip Wrigley in his family business, and went on to define the Cubs' look for decades. His upbeat, bright style is unmistakeable today.

Shepard worked with Chicago softball star Ann Harnett to develop the uniforms. He settled on a "tunic" approach, a combination double-breasted shirt and short skirt.

Photo credit: Northern Indiana Center for History Collection
The first four players signed to the AAGPBL in 1943:
Back,L-R: Clara Schillace, Ann Harnett and Edie Perlick. Front, seated: Shirley Jameson.
Each team would have its own signature-colored tunic. Each tunic which was decorated with a circular patch representing the home city. This design was often adapted from the city seal.

Photo credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame

As an aside, the costume designer for A League of Their Own made a small modification to those patches for the film; in reality, each club was identified by their city and state. The film costumes changed the state name to the name of the team.

In this particular example, "CITY OF RACINE • WISCONSIN" became "CITY OF RACINE • BELLES".

I don't know why this change was made. Perhaps it was an attempt to universalize the characters, get them out of their Midwest origins into a more "Anytown, America" feeling. But regardless of why it was done, remember this point; it's going to come up again soon.

So that's what the league's players wore. But what about the specific Milwaukee iteration?

Hometown Milwaukee players Sylvia Wronski (l) and Vivian Anderson (r) give us a glimpse of the uniforms.
The general consensus seems to be that the Chicks wore gray as their signature color.

And as for the symbol? Milwaukee's city seal is a four-lobed design around a central image, as seen in this gorgeous Works Progress Administration stained-glass window in City Hall.

Sure seems a match for Ms. Anderson's tunic.

K & P Weaver, LLC makes reprodutions of historical baseball uniforms, and their version of the Chicks' duds includes a gray tunic with black details.

That cap has its own issues, but we'll talk about those at a later date.

On their backs, the women wore single-color black numbers, in the same style Shepard had previously designed for Wrigley's Cubs.

Strong, graceful, and bold. I love this font.

There is a Milwaukee Chicks display at Miller Park, complete with a different reproduction tunic. But having looked at what we've seen so far, you'll understand why I have serious questions as to its authenticity.

The seal is the real giveaway.

That's Milwaukee's unmistakable city seal, all right. But the text? "CITY OF MILWAUKEE ★ THE CHICKS"? I don't think so.

The best reason to doubt that is that the Chicks weren't really the Chicks. Or rather they might have been, but they weren't always.

In those days, baseball nicknames were much less official than they are today. They were often informal, and changed frequently. Heck, even a stable team like the Brewers, which had been "the Brewers" for nearly all of its forty-year history to that point, had only put the nickname on uniforms in 1942, two seasons before.

Consider also how the club had marketed itself around town, such as this ad in the Milwaukee Sentinel advertising the first-ever game:

Not "the Chicks", but only "Our Milwaukee Team".

"Brewerettes" or "Brewettes" was floated as a possible name, playing off the established tenants at Borchert Field. This is what the league did in Minneapolis that same season with the "Millerettes". But the name didn't catch on in Milwaukee. Some sources, including the Sentinel in its coverage, called them the "Chicks" and that is the name that has stuck until today. Certainly the club used it at least occasionally, and made it official after they moved to Grand Rapids in 1945.

Photo credit: Flickr user islespunkfan
Grand Rapids Chicks pennant and cap in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
But in Milwaukee? It was much less clear. The Milwaukee Journal eschewed both "Brewettes" and "Chicks" in favor of their own nickname, the "Schnitts".

Wives of ballplayers usually sit in the stand, but in the case shown above the situation was reversed Thursday night at Borchert field. Staff Sergt. Richard Keagle of the army air forces came from Lyke field, Phoenix, Ariz., to visit his wife, Merle, and attended the game between the Milwaukee Schnitts and Rockford. His wife, who plays right field for the Schnitts, got two hits and scored two runs to help win, 9-6. The Keagles were married a year ago.
The reference may be a little lost on many of us today, but in Bavaria a "schnitt" is a glass of beer filled quickly from a tap, resulting in it being filled somewhere around one-third to one-half with beer and the rest with foam. It's often intended to be a top-off at the end of a night, something to drink if you've finished before your friends. So this nickname was a kid-sister diminutive of the Brewers, or "Brews" as they were colloquially known.

Given all this, it seems very unlikely that players wore a team nickname on their tunics, be it "Brewerettes", "Chicks", "Schnitts" or something else entirely. I'm almost positive that the Miller Park recreation is an entirely modern creation, and shouldn't be considered a basis for any possible throwback uniform.